SPOILERS AHEAD! You have been warned.
I was off work today, so I was finally able to sit down and watch a movie, To the Bone. As someone who had mild anorexia in my past, I was nervous about the film because that’s the topic it deals with. Netflix released it on July 16th, to mostly positive reviews. A big part of the reason I waited until today to see it is because I knew it would be intense and difficult to watch. While it was intense and difficult, it was not as tough for me personally to watch as I thought it would be. I think that’s primarily because I’ve had some distance from that part of my life. If I had seen it while I was dealing with anorexia, I probably would have cried for a majority of the movie.
Overall, I think Marti Noxon, the screenwriter and director, did an excellent job. The film was boosted by Lily Collin’s excellent portrayal of Ellen, the main character who is suffering with anorexia. Since I was never hospitalized, I can’t speak to how real to life Dr. Beckham’s (played by Keanu Reeves) inpatient treatment is, but I assume, at the very least, patients’ food intake would be much more monitored than what they showed it to be in the film.
What I think Noxon and Collin really nailed on the head was the complexity of eating disorders. Keanu Reeve’s character, in response to the mom’s psycho analysis of Ellen, explains that it’s never that simple. Unfortunately, I think there are still a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders. Many falsely believe sufferers just want to be skinny or that sexual abuse is always the root cause. People try to group all sufferers under the same umbrella, when really, every person has their individual reason(s).
One of my favorite lines in the movie is at the beginning. Ellen vehemently denies she needs help. She says, “I’ve got it under control.” I loved that line because it summed up my personal experience. Starving myself and obsessing over what I ate felt like the only thing that gave me control. In reality, my eating disorder was controlling me. There is a scene where Ellen is in group therapy with her family. She doesn’t say one word during the whole session. It is essentially her family members blaming each other for Ellen’s anorexia. That’s kind of what dinners with my family felt like. No one was blaming, but I felt like I was being talked over. Someone would say I should eat more, which would escalate into them all discussing what was wrong with me.
In what I think is the climax of the film, Ellen has a conversation with her birth mother (played by Lili Taylor). In it, her mother says that she will accept it if what Ellen wants is to die. Afterwards, they have a strange but very emotional moment in which her mother feeds her from a baby bottle. The mother suffered from serious postpartum depression after having Ellen, and she was told feeding Ellen like a baby might help to heal wounds that were inflicted at that time. For the first time, we see Ellen being accepted for exactly who she is. Which in turn I think helps her accept who she is, which leads her to finally be honest with herself about where she is and what she really wants. I appreciated that Noxon didn’t portray Ellen’s romance with a fellow patient as the answer to Ellen’s problems, which so often happens in Hollywood. What Ellen really needed was the desire to get better. No one but herself could change her attitude towards life.
My biggest issue with the movie was how glamorized certain parts were. Lily Collins looks appropriately gaunt, but quite often has perfect makeup or hair. Other members of the treatment program also have perfect hair or makeup. There is an aesthetically pleasing, but somewhat ridiculous scene where the patients are taken to see art, which is a darkened room with constant “rain.” They all dance around and revel in it, which most girls with perfectly curled hair would not do. The scene in which Ellen decides she wants to live is a big overdramatized dream/vision sequence of her in the desert. In my experience, people with anorexia did not have a vision chalk full of symbolism where they decided they wanted to recover.
In the reviews I watched and read many expressed dislike for the ending, which they thought was too abrupt. I however, liked the ending. Of course I wanted to experience more of Ellen’s story, but it seemed like the appropriate place to end. The movie was about her deciding if she wanted to recover. She made her decision then. What happened after is almost irrelevant, because the viewer knows Ellen is committed to getting better.
To the Bone is an imperfect but powerful film. I’m grateful to everyone involved for bringing an honest and most accurate portrayal of anorexia I’ve seen on screen, spreading light on something that has left so many in the dark.